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Monday, July 17, 2017

To Fire or Not to Fire - That is the question

The biggest question plaguing almost every big IT business leader today is precisely that. Should I fire or more likely especially after the Tech Mahindra Audio Tape Gate scandal, how to fire without creating a scandal around it? The one person that needs to get fired sooner rather than later is the HR Head of Tech-M, that’s for sure.

Why this post? 

I am a big fan of Prabal Basu (he writes so well, he's a fellow alma-mater from London Business School and his articles are so spot-on on a wide range of topics). How can someone be so knowledgeable on such a wide-range of topics I always wonder. His article on the Tech Mahindra saga is interesting to say the least. He raised several important points including the impact of beliefs at the top on actual decisions taken by the middle management and how the culture change in Tech Mahindra due to HCL imports might have led to this.

My only point of contention is that this is a common dilemma that an IT manager or in fact any leader faces today and there are none around that are better than the others. With the current generation of millennial employees with limited loyalty, the only thing these companies can and should do is provide enough opportunities to train and challenge employees to utilize those opportunities to upskill themselves. Once that is being done, some hard decisions need to be made, they just need to be made. Of course, execute those decisions as humanely as you can do and that is really where the HR team needs to learn to put its foot down because that is their space.

I write today (thanks to a nudge from someone I respect a lot) to share some interesting anecdotes and experiences from my life. I've had my fair share of experiences both as an employee during the 2001 recession and as an employer in the recent past as we go through the ups and downs of trying to build a start-up with the right culture and the right kind of people. This post is more about my experience as an employer and I'll follow up with my view from the other side and the tough decisions that need to be made.

2000: The rise 

The Y2K Boom had made all the IT majors including the highly respected Infosys, TCS, Wipro and almost every IT company in Bangalore rich and greedy. They went about hiring with gay abandon especially at the entry level and what better place to get good talent in Engineering schools across Bangalore. Most of my 2001 batch (including friends across most colleges in Bangalore and as I heard later across India) got offers galore and were all excited about their bright future in the rosy IT sector. I for one had not one but two offers. Even though our college (UVCE) allowed only one offer per student, I'd gone through the PPR program at PESIT (an industry training program sponsored by a couple of companies including Yahoo, HP and Others) and through that I had got placed in Infosys. Everyone at home was over the moon since Infosys was really the star of the IT sector (largely due to its stock price) of course and in a few weeks, I even got placed in the one and only Lucent Technologies "Bell Labs" of Dennis Ritchie fame (Great pay, expectation of great work, tons of perks). I could not have asked for more. 

2000: The fall 

The recession then hit and man oh man, did the atmosphere on campus and across the city change. One by one, the companies started cancelling offers that they had made and / or indefinitely deferring the joining or in some cases suggested trainings and courses that we could take up (to skill ourselves up). Thanks for the advice, that's so kind of you, we all thought.

Back to my story, Lucent was at least clear in their thought process and cancelled its offer outright and well ahead of the others. Along with the nice letter intimating us about their decision due to changed circumstances, they gave a nice consolation sum. In hind sight, it is indeed funny. I got fired before my first day at work and I got my first severance package (a handy sum at that) without putting an hour of work. Post this experience, I realized that everything in life happens for a reason.  Infosys on the other hand sent a vague "joining date deferred" letter and left us on tenterhooks for nearly 8-10 months and for some of my friends, well over 15-16 months. We did receive a few more nicely crafted letters from their HR team every 2-3 months and kept us all hopeful. The offer finally came and while we were doing something productive in the time, many of us were happy to finally start our careers off or give it a boost. While there was a lot of bitterness about the whole affair, some of the bitterness came from the high pedestal Infosys and NRN was placed on by all and sundry including parents, uncles and aunts. Don't get me wrong. Infosys was an amazing experience for me. I spent the more time in Infosys than in any other company including my own company where we are nearing the 5 year mark. I made the best friends there and also learnt so much there that I have no regrets about losing 8-10 months. Like I said, in the long run, what is a few weeks or months.

NRN and the claims

The bitterness with the founders remains and it just creeps me out when I see the same founders of Infosys preaching about how they are holier than the rest. NRN in this article talking about what happened in 2001 says "Let me give you example of Infosys itself. When the market became very tough and it shrank actually in 2001. We all sat together with senior management and then we said: look let us make some sacrifice and ensure that we protect the jobs of youngsters. That time we had offered jobs to 1,500 engineers. Several companies were postponing the joining day. We said let us not do that, let us demonstrate the commitment to youngsters by senior people taking some salary cuts based on the disposable income as we go down the hierarchy and welcome those 1,500 engineers.”

Mr. Narayana Murthy is an honest soul and about that, I have no doubt. But then, unless I imagined what happened to me and 1000+ other friends in 2001-02, his recollection of the 2001-02 treatment that Infosys delivered to us and my own recollection is just poles apart. I'd love to know if it was just a honest mistake or was he misled into believing this is how it happened. You can forgive him for believing the stories spun by his and Infosys’ PR machinery as the holy grail.

My respect for him will go up manifold if he admits that he got his facts wrong. I do respect him, Nandan and others a great deal despite what we personally went through for he and his Co-Founders really showed us first time entrepreneurs the way and helped build that dream of starting something on our own.

Since it's already quite a long post, I'll hold off on my "own experiences as an employer" for another post.

Coming Up: The Bad and the Ugly - My experiences with letting people go and why that is necessary!

About the Author: 
Randhir Hebbar is one of the founders of Convergytics - a bespoke analytics consulting firm and is a leading tech entrepreneur who has worked with companies like Mu Sigma, Dell and Infosys Technologies Ltd. He has consulted with many large retailers, technology companies and telecom companies and is a highly regarded digital analytics consultant. He has spent over 17 years in the IT / ITES industry both as an employee and as an employer and loves nothing more than spending time with employees working with them to make a bigger impact on clients.

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